The chain of Helium Comedy Clubs releases giggle gas from famed headliners and tomorrow's brightest stars at its Philadelphia, Portland, and Buffalo locations. In front of a tabled showroom that allows audiences a clear sightline and maximizes guffaw acoustics, a bustling calendar of familiar comic talent fills most of the week with levity, and open mic nights and standup workshops put aspiring jokesmiths higher up the comedy rung. Although the club holds guests to a two-item minimum, the menu inspires curiosity regarding maximum orders, with tempting savories such as shrimp cocktail, pulled-pork sliders, avocado and chicken paninis, and spicy potato bites with ranch dressing.
Listed in the National Registry of Historic Places, the McDonald Theatre has enjoyed a long, strange history since its establishment in 1925. Originally a community playhouse equipped with both a stage and a screen, the theater found new life in the 1950s when One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest author and psychedelic pioneer Ken Kesey began presenting free cartoons there every Saturday morning. The McDonald spent the next six or so decades as a movie house exclusively, but in 2001, the Kesey family returned, producing concerts and community events under the theater’s enormous proscenium arch. Kesey Enterprises finally purchased the time-weighted stage in 2009, and today the building hosts events ranging from high-school proms to reggae concerts to plumbing-fixture lifting contests.
Sharing a roof with its parent organization, The Salvation Army, the Ray & Joan Kroc Corps Community Center's fine arts and education program nurtures the dramatic arts with a focus on bringing family-friendly productions to the stage of its Kroc Theater. Big River takes a musical theater approach to Mark Twain's beloved The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and the community-minded cast and crew works hard on their year’s biggest production, giving Mr. Clements his due by putting on a show as thrilling as hitching a ride on the beard of a passing giant. Accompanied by the original award-winning score by Roger Miller, the all-local troupe passionately enacts lively Huck Finn and his valiant effort to help his friend Jim, a slave, reach independence at the mouth of the Ohio River.
Eschewing the over-the-top costumes and writing that typify many other murder-mystery dinners, The Dinner Detectives’ cast of improvisational actors blends in with audiences, holding secrets tight to their chests while steering each night’s tension-filled storyline. After a diner is found murdered, a resident detective helps lead the investigation, allowing guests to interrogate one another with Tickle Monster tactics to distinguish the culprit among the crowd of fellow diners and dissembling thespians. Multicourse meals keep bodies well fueled during spurts of crime-solving intuition, and a prize basket awaits the gumshoe who comes closest to solving the case.
Ingredient-Driven Cuisine | Local Focus | Celebrity Chef | Popular Happy Hour | Funky, Repurposed Decor
Where to Sit: When making a reservation, ask for a corner booth. If you time your dinner just right, you can pair it with a stellar view of the sunset from this spot.
When to Go: Happy hours (Tuesday–Friday, 5:30 p.m.–7 p.m.) spotlight cheap drinks and discounts on sharable small plates.
Inside Tip: You, too, can learn to cook like Chef Jenn Louis, a former contestant on Top Chef Masters. Louis has divulged a handful of her most popular recipes to the Wall Street Journal, including one for a "last-meal-on-earth-worthy" burrata cheese with roasted nectarines and pistachio-herb oil.
Fun Fact: Some of the restaurant's funky decor is the result of creative repurposing. The tables and benches are forged from reclaimed wood from Kentucky tobacco houses, and parts of the bar are crafted from recycled chicken coops.
Chicory: this plant’s spicy, bitter leaves are often used in salads, while its ground-up roots make a flavorful coffee substitute or additive.
Kohlrabi: also known as a German turnip or turnip cabbage, this is a type of cabbage with a texture and taste similar to a broccoli stem, but a bit sweeter.
While You're in the Neighborhood
Get creepy-crawly: Browse the assorted taxidermy, skeletons, insects, and assorted neo-Victorian oddities at Paxton Gate (4204 N. Mississippi Avenue).
Get artsy: Start upstairs at Land Gallery (3925 N. Mississippi Avenue), where you’ll find a new exhibition each month, before scoping out the paper goods and crafts from more than 100 artists for sale downstairs.
If You Can’t Make It, Try This: Sunshine Tavern (3111 SE Division Street), also owned by Chef Louis and her husband, features the same hip, unmistakably Portland vibe of its sister spot but with a more casual menu of pizza, sandwiches, and corn dogs.
The comedic theater duo Big Plastic Heroes comprises Slash Coleman, best known for PBS special and off-Broadway show The Neon Man and Me, and auGi (aka SexyNurd), who has appeared on Comedy Central and E!. Their show, made up of two one-man features peppered with rotating guest performances, explores the humor in idolizing superheroes and daredevils, similar to the way football games explore the inherent humor of supersized shoulders. auGi’s autobiographical work Teenage Commando traces the real fallout after he and his friends form a fantasy commando squad, whereas Coleman’s Last American Gladiator Part 3 tells the true story of his fixation on Evel Knievel and his third grade teacher with crushing circumstances. Like a river through outer space, beer and wine flow freely at The Sanctuary at Sandy Plaza, the site of the performances, situated within walking distance of palate-pleasing restaurants.